NYPD reaches settlement over surveillance of Muslims

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The New York Police Department has agreed to reform its internal policies to prevent future explicit targeting of Muslims following a lawsuit over the department’s surveillance activities.

In the settlement reached on Thursday, the NYPD agreed to erect new barriers preventing officers from launching investigations that are largely based around a suspect’s race, religion or ethnicity. The reforms will also reinstall a civilian watchdog within the police department to prevent unfair targeting and will limit the use of undercover and confidential informants. 

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The concessions amount to significant reforms for the NYPD after the controversy surrounding the department's aggressive surveillance of Muslims in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“For the first time, this watershed settlement puts much needed constraints on law enforcement’s discriminatory and unjustified surveillance of Muslims,” Hina Shamsi, the director of the national security project at the American Civil Liberties Union and a lawyer involved in the case, said in a statement. “At a time of rampant anti-Muslim hysteria and prejudice nationwide, this agreement with the country’s largest police force sends a forceful message that bias-based policing is unlawful, harmful, and unnecessary.”

A federal judge must approve the terms of the settlement before they can go into effect.

If approved, the settlement would bring to a close two of three lawsuits launched against the NYPD over its practices of closely scrutinizing Muslims based only on their religion. The practices were revealed in a series of high-profile, Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press stories in 2011 and 2012, which detailed how the police department’s expansive intelligence unit secretly monitored Muslim neighborhoods, schools, stores and mosques. 

Civil liberties advocates said the behavior likely violated the Constitution.

Some defenders of the NYPD, however, such as Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), argue that U.S. officials ought to be actively monitoring more Muslim communities, especially amid new fears about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Calls for the government to monitor some mosques have also trickled through the Republican presidential race.

The NYPD did not admit to acting improperly in the settlement released on Thursday.

The settlement “represents another important step toward building our relationship with the Muslim community,” Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said in a statement.

“We are committed to strengthening the relationship between our administration and communities of faith so that residents of every background feel respected and protected," he added.

Among the changes, the NYPD has agreed to put presumptive time limits on its investigations, which can be extended, and remove a controversial 2007 report from its website.

Last year, a federal appeals case reopened a third, unrelated case challenging the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims.